Time for some Burlesque-ercise
I was the girl at school who got the sixth-form boys to write me absence letters from P.E. and spent sports days hiding in the music block. I last knowingly exercised in 2003 yet, for some inexplicable reason, I jumped at the chance of joining a burlesque course for RECOGNISE magazine. While ever so slightly terrified, the prospect of a form of exercise that involved me wearing heels and took place in a bar was actually quite appealing.
So, armed only with the name of my teacher, the tantalisingly titled ‘Tempest Rose’, and the address of an underground nightclub in the heart of London’s Soho, I began my journey to discover the histories and mysteries of burlesque.
I had a suspicion that as soon as I walked through the door I’d be forced to strip in front of a dominating teacher who ate men regularly for breakfast. But my entry into the burlesque world could not have been less intimidating. Tempest is indeed a woman who oozes so much sex appeal she’s probably illegal in several countries, but she’s also a consummate professional used to teaching women of all ages, shapes and dispositions, a regular performer herself and the owner of an absolutely wicked sense of humour.
We were first taken through a 15-minute warm up before Tempest gave us an introduction to the history of burlesque. To ease us in, the session mainly covered the various types of walks, poses and mini routines that can be used in a performance to help convey the type of character you are portraying. You can be cute or dominating, funny or feline, but you’re always in charge. It was definitely a step out of my comfort zone but, once I pushed any embarrassment to the back of my mind, I really enjoyed the moment. I left feeling exhilarated and I couldn’t wait to go back the following week.
It was already striptease week (agggghhh). But, panic not, as we were asked to bring along double layers of underwear and clothes so we didn’t have to show too much flesh. It was interesting to learn how important clothing and costumes are and how different textures of material have differing effects on performance.
We also learnt the tricks of skilful clothing removal and how to perform to a crowd. The crux of burlesque is that the routine is over when the reveal is complete – it is all about the tease and the performance. Also, although it is choreographed to a point, many moves are personal and improvised, so it’s great for someone that isn’t comfortable in a discipline where precise choreography is key.
As is usual in my history of exercise attempts, three weeks in and I was wavering on whether to attend. But this was a challenge and I don’t like admitting defeat, so I dragged myself to class kicking and screaming. As if Tempest knew I needed to blow off some steam, this class was titled ‘riding crop night’.
The theme was military and we had to play strong characters in absolute control and learn how to bring props into the performance. We wore high heels and put together a full routine to a 1940’s style track with a military beat. It made me feel like I’d been transported into the past. Channelling your energies into a bygone time through evocative music really helps to create your character and capture the romanticism of the art. I was glad I didn’t miss the class and started to understand the science behind exercise releasing endorphins!
The final week came around far too quickly and this was the ultimate test – we were to perform a full routine, including striptease and using props, but this time the strip was for real, so we had to start practicing our tassel twirling skills!
The first part of the lesson focused on said twirling and I was amazed to find that none of us were too worried about it. You feel a lot less exposed than you might think with the pasties covering your assets and it’s a real giggle learning how to keep the tassels in motion, not to mention the exhilaration when you realise you can finally do it! We all ended up doing the final routine four times because we didn’t want the class to end. It was immense fun!
I personally wouldn’t try out any of the outfits or moves that I was taught in the bedroom. A sixth sense and a quick straw poll told me that it’s a bit too contrived to be straight up sexy and you’re more likely to terrify your partner than turn them on. But what I have taken away is that working out using a technique like burlesque can have a positive effect on even the most exercise-phobic, and having the ability to throw away your inhibitions and discover your sexy side can help you develop confidence that you can use to your advantage. It’s that knowledge that makes burlesque the ultimate in sexercise.
This piece was written for the June 2011 issue of RECOGNISE magazine.